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Worms in our political core

By John Warhurst - posted Monday, 12 March 2007

My deepest reaction to the continuing revelations about the lobbying style of Brian Burke and Julian Grill in Western Australia is despair about the health of the Australian political system.

What is being revealed is unacceptable all round. Here my emphasis differs from that of Prime Minister John Howard.

Burke and Grill's activities themselves are, to my mind, more important in the long run than the question of the links between the twice-disgraced Burke and Kevin Rudd and/or Senator Ian Campbell, to name just two.


What they reveal is the depths to which such senior public figures, a former premier and former senior minister respectively, have fallen.

What they also reveal is the weakness of the public office-holders, especially ministers, and businessmen who have dealt with the corrupt lobbyists.

Politicians have always gained my support as flawed human beings like the rest of us, mostly with the public interest at heart. They did their best in an often thankless profession under a relentless media microscope which magnifies their weaknesses and foibles. While knowing that they are not saints, I have always bridled at attempts to demean them as a class.

The frequently negative popular perception of politicians is well documented. Surveys show that many respondents have long believed that governments favour the big interests over ordinary people, and rate politicians low on questions of ethics and honesty. But these seemed to me to be harsh judgments made out of ignorance of their job.

But perhaps it is time to reconsider. It is no longer convincing to say that any system has a few bad apples because there are too many at the moment.

The scandal revealed by the Crime and Corruption Commission in Western Australia comes after many other incidents in state politics elsewhere, in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland in particular. Numerous ministers and MPs, such as Brian Green in Tasmania and Gordon Nuttall in Queensland, have been forced to either resign or to appear in court after their retirement because of alleged criminal offences. These can involve conflicts of interest or personal failings, such as domestic violence charges.


The current NSW state election campaign pits two undeserving political parties against one another.

One, the Government, deserves to lose but the other, the Opposition, doesn't deserve to win.

Premier Morris Iemma has had to sack several ministers and MPs and Opposition Leader Peter Debnam came to office after a succession of predecessors had been brought down by inter-party brawling.

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First published in The Canberra Times on March 8, 2007.

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About the Author

John Warhurst is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science with the Australian National University and Flinders University and a columnist with the Canberra Times.

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